LitFest Reviews - Chapter 4: William Boyd – "I’m a realistic novelist"

Written by Sue Round on .

Novelist William Boyd at the Memorial Hall (Photo © Ben Phillips) Novelist William Boyd at the Memorial Hall (Photo © Ben Phillips) Novelist William Boyd described his working practice as a writer to a packed Marlborough LitFest audience in the Memorial Hall on Saturday evening (September 29).


Using two of his novels - his most recent Love is Blind (published on September 20), and his 1998 fiction Nat Tate : An American Artist 1928-1960, Boyd illustrated his manifesto: “The key factor in fiction is to make your readers believe in the truth of your story. They must believe that what they’re reading actually happened. Any means to this end is acceptable so long as it works.”

Boyd describes himself as a remorseless planner, taking two years to plan a novel and a year to write it: “I make all my mistakes before I start writing. I think the whole thing through which means you can write with some kind of confidence.”

Love is Blind is set in the late nineteenth century and has a piano tuner as the main protagonist. 

Boyd was fascinated by the emotional response that some pieces of music can create in a listener and wanted to explore this in a novel: “It’s very hard to write about music in a novel. This is true about all art forms in literature. Words just don’t do an art form justice.”

However, through meticulous research with a piano tuner from the Royal Academy of Music Boyd is able to enter this world of classical music and “...make the world of the novel seem absolutely real.”

“I’m a realistic novelist. I want the world of my novels to be as real and tactile and physical to the reader as possible.”

It is this realism that has appealed to so many readers. Occasionally, as in An Ice Cream War, Boyd uses a real historical situation with fictional characters or introduces real people into the fiction as with Edward and Mrs Simpson in Any Human Heart: “It is a wonderful liberation to write fiction about real events.”

Boyd’s quest for realism took another turn with the publication of Nat Tate. As a member of the editorial board of an art magazine this was initially an attempt to get fiction into the magazine. However, Boyd’s invention of the artist Nat Tate, which was later published as a book, complete with a blurb from David Bowie and quotes from Gore Vidal and the highly respected art expert John Richardson, famously hoaxed the art world. It was so realsitic.

Boyd is a serious, inventive writer. His final words of the evening were : “I want the language of my books to be as fresh and clear as possible because I am a realistic novelist and my novels have complex plots. I ain’t about to change.”

I, for one, am very glad to hear this!


(Photo © Ben Phillips) (Photo © Ben Phillips)